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The Lighter Side of Alzheimer's Disease
by Pat Carbonell
"What?!" you exclaim. "What do you mean, the lighter side? Alzheimer's is a terrible disease that robs the victims of their memories!"
My mother is just shy of 81 years old, and has recently progressed to the second stage of Alzheimer's - which pretty much means that while she can still talk, the words coming out aren't necessarily the ones she means; that she forgets anything from recent events to her entire life; that her ability to learn anything is squat. As this stage has progressed, living with her has started to closely resemble living with Sybil. Mom now has multiple personalities. We've started to give them names.
First is "Clara", so named for my miserable bitch of a grandmother. "Clara" is a stubborn, opinionated, verbally abusive, crotchety old biddy. She swears we're lying to her about everything. She thinks we, or various other someones, are trying to kill her. She thinks we're trying to poison her. She tells us we're liars, cheats, thieves, free-loaders and sluts. She tells us she hates us. She wants out of this place, because this whole situation is bullshit. If not that, she wants us out. She calls my sister's cooking garbage, and won't eat it. It's pretty hard to screw up scrambled eggs... but I got to dodge flying eggs one evening. She doesn't remember that her balance is crap, and will get out of her chair and try to walk without her walker - someone has to be within eyeball distance all the time, in case "Clara" sneaks up on us.
Then there's "Ruth", which is my mother's real name, and that's who she is when she's pretty much with the program, but doesn't remember that we're her family. Instead of arguing with her, and getting her upset, we just call her "Ruth" instead of Mom, and leave it at that. We have some lovely talks about just about everything. "Ruth" tends to be fairly pleasant, but sometimes she gets sad or worried, and starts running on this mental hamster wheel that takes a crowbar to get her off.
Then there's "Sarah", the drama queen. Oh, yeah, Mom always had a dramatic streak, and man, is it coming out full force now! "Sarah" cries. "Sarah" wails. "Sarah" wants to die. "Sarah" has been a pain in the ass, because when Mom cries, she gets a headache and a stomach ache, and she won't/can't eat. "Sarah" gets shut down as fast as possible when she
Then there's "Ruthie". "Ruthie" isn't fun at all, because it turns out that my mother was severely emotionally and verbally abused as a child, and "Ruthie" is Mom regressed to childhood. I have legions of dead relatives I'd like to dig up and do very very bad witchy things to. When "Ruthie" is scared, all we can do is hold her and tell her over and over again that she's safe.
Mom does show up from time to time, and she remembers that we're her kids, how old she is, what's wrong with her - our names escape her most of the time, but she does remember that she has grandkids and greats. It's funny, in a way, but the most reliable trigger to get Mom out of "Ruth" is to remind her of our cat Idiot. He's this humungous 15 lb. fixed tomcat, black & white longhair, who decided long ago that his purpose in life is to guard our house. He patrols. He also sleeps with Mom, and will put his face up to hers to get a kiss when she goes to bed. I think he sticks in her head because a couple of the great-grandchildren love to come over and call him by name, because it's the only time they can say a bad word (idiot) without getting into trouble. Either that, or just because he has such a singular name.
Finally, there's "Elizabeth". That is Mom in smart-ass mode. She'll sit there and hint at something, and when asked, smile sweetly and tell us she's not going to tell us, figure it out for ourselves. She laughs at us when she drives us nuts. She also appreciates a good sick joke. I can deal with "Elizabeth", because I'm a smart-ass, too.
"Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think." Fortune cookie wisdom. As I told "Ruth" last week, when she asked me why I laugh at things so much, I choose to view life as an ironic joke, because otherwise I would have eaten the end of a shotgun a long time ago.
So we name her personalities, and wait for the next one to show up!